While the current gun control talks in the Senate revolve around supposedly “modest” expansions of background checks and grants to states to establish “red flag” firearm seizure laws, gun control activists and anti-gun academics are making it clear that they won’t be satisfied with any deal that is struck between Republicans and Democrats.
In a recent interview with New York magazine columnist Matt Steib, anti-gun researcher Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy came out and all but admitted that even “universal background checks” don’t serve as a much of a deterrent to violent criminals, and argued that the imposition of any background check law is just the first step towards other, even more draconian restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms.
Even if the policy makes it to the Senate floor, expanded background checks at the state level don’t necessarily equate to lower homicide rates, according to Webster. “We do see filling that gap does significantly reduce gun trafficking,” he says, noting that all background-check systems are not created equal. “What we find is when you couple comprehensive background checks with a licensing system is where you tend to see beneficial effects. Or in some cases you see beneficial effects when adding a waiting period to the background-check process. The long story short is that just doing the background check by itself only takes you so far.”
That’s sure not how the idea of expanding background checks is being pitched by gun control advocates in Congress, is it? The idea is generally presented as a “commonsense” solution all on its own, not something that requires even more restrictions on legal gun owners before we might see violent crime rates drop. It’s all part of the gun control playbook, however: pass what you can, and then when that doesn’t solve the problem, claim we need even more gun control laws to make a difference.
California Democrats have been using this model for decades, and despite the dozens of gun control laws in place, including universal background checks and a ten-day waiting period for all gun purchases, the state still had the most active shooter incidents in the union last year, and violent crime is now one of the top concern of California voters, some of whom appear set to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin today during the state’s primary. That doesn’t mean that a majority of San Franciscans have now decided to embrace their Second Amendment rights, of course, but a growing number of residents in typically-progressive bastions seem to have had enough with the soundbite solutions empty of substance that they’re continually pitched by Democratic politicians.
While I’d love to see California return to sanity, what’s more important to me at the moment is that we as a nation don’t follow their lead down the dead end road of criminalizing the Second Amendment. The types of gun control laws that Webster believes are necessary to have any sort of beneficial effect on homicides are the same ones that give the state arbitrary and capricious authority to deny someone the ability to purchase a firearm because they don’t think they’re “suitable”, even if they have no criminal convictions (or even arrests) or any mental health adjudication that would bar them from legally possessing a firearm. These types of discretionary licensing regimes are ripe for abuse, as we’ve seen with North Carolina’s pistol purchase permit law, with black applicants being denied a permit at a rate nearly three times higher than their white counterparts according to one study. They also turn the idea of a right protected against state intrusion into a privilege to be doled out by the state itself.
Each and every one of these restrictions also serves as a barrier to legal gun ownership, particularly for lower-income Americans, who may struggle to take off from their hourly job to spend an afternoon or two filling out paperwork and being interviewed by law enforcement or have trouble paying the fees they’re subjected to before they can legally exercise their right to own or carry a firearm. Violent criminals, on the other hand, pay no more attention to these laws than they do the laws forbidding armed robberies, carjackings, home invasions, or homicide.
It doesn’t surprise me to see Democrats expend so much political capital on the possibility of a deal that would expand background checks, but it does disappoint me to see some Republicans willing and even eager to play along. When anti-gun researchers are saying that even “universal” background checks alone won’t have a meaningful impact on violent crime or homicides, you’d think that would be reason enough for supposedly pro-Second Amendment senators to look in another direction, but for the moment it looks like the impetus is still to “do something” instead of something that works.